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Archive for the ‘Universal (-International)’ Category

Canyon Passage DJ

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Produced by Walter Wanger
Screenplay by Ernest Pascal
Adapted from the Saturday Evening Post story by Ernest Haycox
Director Of Photography: Edward Cronjager
Film Editor: Milton Carruth

Cast: Dana Andrews (Logan Stuart), Brian Donlevy (George Camrose), Susan Hayward (Lucy Overmire), Patricia Roc (Caroline Marsh), Ward Bond (Honey Bragg), Hoagy Carmichael (Hi Linnet), Fay Holden (Mrs. Overmire), Stanley Ridges (Jonas Overmire), Lloyd Bridges (Johnny Steele), Andy Devine (Ben Dance), the Devine Kids, Frank Ferguson, Ray Teal

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There seems to be a general consensus around here that Canyon Passage (1946) is a damn good Western, typically fine work from Jacques Tourneur, and a picture that has been unjustly overlooked over the years. We also tend to agree that the DVD from Universal is a terrific example of how to present three-strip Technicolor on our hi-def TVs. So much so, that a few folks have commented that they couldn’t imagine how much difference a Blu-ray upgrade would make.

Well, the new Blu-ray from Panamint offers up a stunning example of just what Blu-ray can do — that beautiful transfer of Edward Cronjager’s Technicolor photography is, well, even more beautiful than it was before. Sharper, crisper, more detailed — and with a real sense of depth. After viewing this, the old DVD seems way too bright by comparison. The extras — from newsreel footage of the premiere to a series of radio shows to a nice booklet on the film — really make this a premium package.

Patricia Roc and Jacques Tourneur

Patricia Roc and Jacques Tourneur

Then there’s the movie itself. Director Jacques Tourneur’s first Western, and his first time working in Technicolor, Canyon Passage is a big, beautiful, complex tale of the Oregon territory in 1856. Dana Andrews runs a freight business and winds up in a love triangle with Susan Hayward and Brian Donlevy — while dealing with both Indians and a positively evil Ward Bond.

Canyon Passage Bond Andrews

Ward Bond and Dana Andrews duke it out

It’d be easy for Canyon Passage to get bogged down in melodrama, but Tourneur’s too smart for that. He treats us to incredible vistas of the Oregon locations (Crater Lake is one of them), gets top-notch performances from the entire cast and offers up a great fistfight between Andrews and Bond. Bond deserves special mention: he’s a real scumbag in this one, a sharp contrast to roles that came later like Wagon Master (1950) and The Searchers (1956).

Jacques Tourneur came to this film with some classic horror movies under his belt — Cat People (1942) and I Walked With A Zombie (1943), and he’d follow it with one of the finest noirs, Out Of The Past (1947). Tourneur’s body of work is certainly worth seeking out. Case in point: his other Westerns include Stars In My Crown (1950) and Wichita (1955).

It’s easy to recommend Canyon Passage — both the film and Panamint’s high-definition, Region B presentation of it. It takes a good thing and makes it better.

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Dragoon Wells Massacre UK LC

It’s a lot of fun putting this list together every year, seeing what people are coming across for the first time. Remember, though these things are 60-something years old, if you’ve never seen it, it’s a new movie!

To make the list, a picture has to be mentioned by at least three people. This year, there were fewer titles brought up, but the frequency was a lot higher. We ended up with a solid lineup of fairly obscure, medium-budgeted 50s Westerns — and if you haven’t discovered them yourself, search them out.

And I hope this blog helped you discover some of these.

Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957)
This was my personal favorite discovery of the year, and I was so happy to have others finding it, too. William Clothier’s camerawork deserves a solid CinemaScope transfer — and Jack Elam’s performance needs to be seen by more people. (Stay tuned for the Allied Artists blogathon, where I’ll give this thing some much-deserved attention.)

Cave Of Outlaws (1951)
William Castle directs a 50s Western for Universal — shooting at Carlsbad Caverns, Vasquez Rocks and the Iverson Ranch. Needs a DVD release.

Wyoming Mail still

Wyoming Mail (1950)
A fairly obscure U-I Western starring Stephen McNally and Alexis Smith. Reginald Le Borg keeps things moving at a brisk pace and Russell Metty makes sure the Technicolor looks terrific.

Gunsmoke In Tucson (1958)
A number of people picked up the DVD from Warner Archive, and it seems like most of us were impressed. If you still haven’t tracked this one down, get to it!

Thunderhoof (1948)
A Phil Karlson horse picture with a cast of only three (and the horse). Can’t to track this one down.

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Four Guns To The Border (1954)
This one was on last year’s list, too. We keep bumping into, and we all seem to like it. It’s a great example of what a Universal 50s Western can be: terrific cast, gorgeous Technicolor, plenty of action.

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Abile Town signed still

First, thanks to everyone who sent in their picks — we had a larger turnout this year. Your responses were very thorough, and they made it clear to me what a good year this was for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-ray — you brought up tons of em. Here are the Top 10, ordered by the number of votes they received.

Abilene Town (1946, Blu-ray, Panamint Cinema)
This one topped the list in a big way. I was so stoked to see this fairly obscure Randolph Scott picture rescued from the PD purgatory where it’s been rotting for years — a lot of you seemed to feel the same. Mastered from 35mm fine-grain material, it’s stunning.

Shane (1953, Blu-ray, Eureka)
The Blu-ray release from Paramount made last year’s list, and this UK release was a strong contender this time around. Eureka gives us the opportunity to see what Paramount’s controversial 1.66 cropping looked like.

The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection (1951-54, DVD set, Warner Archive)
I’m pretty biased when it comes to this one, and I was happy to learn that others were as pleased with it as I was. One of the greatest Western stars goes out on a high note, even if it is a low-budget one.

The Quiet Gun (1956, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It’s hard to believe this was a 2015 release, since it was on Olive Films’ coming-soon list for such a long time. These Regalscope movies look great in their original aspect ratio, and for my money, this is the best of the bunch.

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Woman They Almost Lynched (1953, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It makes me feel good to see Allan Dwan get some attention, and stellar presentations of his work, like this one, should continue to fuel his (re-)discovery.

Man With The Gun (1955, Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)
A solid Robert Mitchum Western, with the added punch of a terrific 1.85 hi-def transfer. This is a lot better movie than you probably remember it being.

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Run Of The Arrow (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
This really knocked me out — I’d somehow missed out on what a great movie this is. It took me a while to get used to Rod Steiger and his affected accent, but this is prime Sam Fuller.

The Hired Gun (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
Black and white CinemaScope is a big attraction for me, so I’d been waiting for this one for years. It was worth the wait.

Stranger At My Door (1954, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
A really cool little movie from Republic and William Witney. It was Witney’s favorite of his own pictures, and it’s pretty easy to see why he’d be partial to it. His work here is masterful.

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Star In The Dust (1956, Blu-ray, Koch)
Koch out of Germany is treating us (or those of us with a Region B player) to some great Universal 50s Westerns on Blu-ray. This one was released in Universal’s 2.0 ratio of the period. Some found it a bit tight, but it’s a gorgeous presentation of a movie not enough people have seen.

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Star In The Dust UK

Directed by Charles Haas
Starring John Agar, Mamie Van Doren, Richard Boone, Leif Erickson, Coleen Gray, James Gleason, Randy Stuart, Terry Gilkyson, Harry Morgan, Clint Eastwood

I tend to stay away from plugging foreign releases, mainly since I don’t want to encourage someone to spend their hard earned on something they may not be able to play once it shows up. Luckily, John Knight brings ’em up in the comments for those who’re interested.

In the case of Star In The Dust (1956), I’m going to break my rule. First, I really like the movie. Next, I like John Agar. He made some cool Westerns and sci-fi flicks. Plus, I met him a few times and he was a really, really nice man.

mamie_agarIt’s an Albert Zugsmith production with a great cast — Agar, Mamie Van Doren, Richard Boone, Leif Erickson, Coleen Gray, James Gleason, Harry Morgan. It’s like a master class in character acting. The story’s good, director of photography John L. Russell Jr. does a great job (shot for 2:1), and Charles Haas’ direction has a real snap to it. It’s coming in May from Koch Media with its English tracks.

As you probably know, there’s a look and texture to Universal’s Westerns of the 50s, and this one has it in spades. Highly recommended.

Thanks for the tip, John.

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4 guns WC cropped

Four Guns To The Border (1954) is an excellent 50s Western from Universal-International. It’s a hard one to track down, unfortunately.

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The picture gave actor Richard Carlson one of his few directing credits. He does a tremendous job; wish he’d done more. Here, he’s working with Rory Calhoun and Colleen Miller.

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Here’s Colleen Miller on a Western street. Iverson, maybe?

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Rory Calhoun takes a phone and cigarette break.

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Here’s Miller again, this time with George Nader. The terrific cast includes John McIntire, Walter Brennan, Nina Foch, Jay Silverheels and Nestor Paiva.

Will get around to a real post on it soon. Why isn’t this thing on DVD?

 

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24heuresdeterreur0

Directed by Harmon Jones
Produced by Robert Arthur
Screenplay by James Edmiston and Oscar Brodney
Story by James Edmiston
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter, ASC
Film Editor: Sherman Todd, ACE
Music Supervision by Joseph Gershenson

CAST: Dale Robertson (Jagade), Mara Corday (Sharman Fulton), Jock Mahoney (Marshal Allan Burnett), Carl Benton Reid (Judge John J. McLean), Jan Merlin (Billy Brand), John Dehner (Preacher Jason), Dee Carroll (Miss Timmons), Sheila Bromley (Marie), James Bell (Doc Logan). Dani Crayne (Claire), Howard Wendell (Vanryzin), Charles Cane (Duggen), Phil Chambers (Burson), Sydney Mason (Beemans), Helen Kleeb (Mrs. McLean).

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Not too long ago, I wrote about Harmon Jones’ The Silver Whip (1954), a film I found better than its reputation, and with much more going for it than just its pairing of Dale Robertson and Rory Calhoun. That lit a fire under me to track down a copy of A Day Of Fury (1956), which brought Jones and Robertson together again — this time at Universal-International. It’d been years since I’d seen Fury, and I was really knocked for a loop by how good it is.

There’s been speculation that A Day Of Fury was an influence on Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter (1973), an honor that actually goes to the spaghetti western Django The Bastard (1969, which is available from VCI as The Stranger’s Gundown). That said, Eastwood’s picture certainly has a few things in common with A Day Of Fury. In both, a mysterious stranger comes to town, and his very presence turns that town inside out. (No Name On The Bullet works somewhat the same way.) This time, the gunfighter is Jagade (Dale Robertson). The town marshall (Jock Mahoney) owes Jagade his life, which complicates matters quite a bit. What’s more, Jagade and the marshall’s fiancé (Mara Corday) were once an item. But there’s so much more to it than that.

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Dale Robertson: “It was an interesting story. After I finished it, I read it again. I figured this guy (Jagade) was the Devil. He, himself, never did anything wrong. He merely set things up to show the weakness of other people. (Producer) Bob Arthur rewrote the story… and he took away a lot of the little subtle things that were so wonderful in the original script.”#

Watching the picture with Robertson’s Devil idea in mind is very interesting, and I’d love to see that original screenplay. Robertson seems to be enjoying himself in a part that lets him stretch out a bit, while Jock Mahoney is stuck in a goodguy role that is maybe a little too good.

Dale Robertson: “They were trying to push Jock Mahoney… He was the most agile, one of the most fluid actors in the whole business. He was really wonderful, he was athletic, had great moves.”#

Mahoney proves Robertson’s point in the first scene in the movie, when he does a horse fall. It’s not often that you see one of the leads do such a stunt on his own.

Mara Corday: “The director, Harmon Jones, was a nice man, had been an editor. He told you line readings — in other words, how to say the lines. He’d put emphasis on certain words that I wouldn’t have. It made everyone stilted.”*

Jan Merlin committed the age-old actor’s trick of saying he could ride a horse when called about the part, then getting to the set and proving he could not. This was his first Western. “Harmon was marvelous… He was kind to me. Anybody else would have lost their temper after all I’d done.”#

A Day Of Fury is unavailable on DVD in the States, though it’s received a Blu-ray release in Europe. It’s an excellent film, well outside the normal Universal Western. Highly recommended.

Day Of Fury newspaper ad

SOURCES: * Westerns Women by Boyd Magers; # Universal-International Westerns, 1947-1963 by Gene Blottner (McFarland);

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Universal’s Vault Series is serving up a handful of 50s Westerns, basically taking the TCM Western Horizons set and selling them as single discs (available exclusively from Amazon).

Horizons West (1952) has Budd Boetticher directing Robert Ryan, Julie Adams and Rock Hudson in a Technicolor post-Civil War tale.

Saskatchewan (1954) puts Alan Ladd, Shelley Winters, J. Carrol Naish and Hugh O’Brian in the hands of the great Raoul Walsh.

Dawn At Socorro (1954) was directed by George Sherman, which is enough for me. Factor in Rory Calhoun, Piper Laurie, Mara Corday, Edgar Buchanan, Skip Homeier, James Millican and Lee Van Cleef, and you’ve really got something going.
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Pillars Of The Sky (1956) stars Jeff Chandler and Dorothy Malone. Support comes from Ward Bond, Olive Carey (both appeared in The Searchers the same year) and Lee Marvin. George Marshall directed in CinemaScope. I love this film.

Backlash (1956) comes from John Sturges and stars Richard Widmark, Donna Reed and William Campbell. Good stuff.

These will make a welcome addition to anybody’s collection, but what I want to know is: where are A Day Of Fury (1956) and Last Of The Fast Guns (1958)?

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